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Role of Money in Politics


  CARE - The Role Of Money In Politics

There is no doubt about it Ė politicians need money.  The average Congressional campaign cost just over $1 million in 2002.  The average Senate campaign cost over $3 million.  Even local races now routinely cost tens of thousands of dollars.  This money is used to rent office space, buy signs and bumper stickers, run TV and newspaper ads, and sometimes hire campaign staff.  Modern campaigns are not cheep, and the reality is most of the time the candidate with the most money wins.

Since most candidates donít have an extra million dollars burning a hole in their pocket (and even if they do, they would prefer not to spend it), this money must be raised from individual citizens.  Laws place strict limits on how much one person can give to a campaign.  For federal elections the limit is $2,000 per election, while state and local limits vary.  Because of these limits, candidates must depend, not on a few large checks, but on many small donations to fund their campaign.  Raising these small donations is one of the first and most important projects a new candidate must undertake.

It is also one of the least pleasant.  For the average House race, candidates must raise about $10,000 every week for two years just to be competitive.  Several recently retired members of Congress have said that calling people to ask for money was so unpleasant that they chose not to run again rather than spend another two years raising money. 

What does all this money buy?  It does not buy votes.  $2,000 isnít enough to make it worth the risk for a politician, even if they would consider it.  Campaign contributions also do not buy you a say on the politicianís positions.  The reality is that there is money on both sides of just about every issue, so politicians can find supporters regardless of what position they take. 

What money does buy is access.  Politicians are very busy people.  Their time is extremely valuable, so they donít let just anyone have it.  People and organizations who contribute to campaigns will receive preferential treatment when asking for some of the politicianís time.  This time can be used to argue for your position on an issue, and you will be listened too.  The politician wonít necessarily agree with you, but he or she will think about it. 

The truth is most people give money to candidates because they support the candidate.  Giving is generally based on a candidateís past support for specific policies, not expectations of future support. 

It is therefore important not to over state the influence money can have.  Money is a means to an end for politicians, not the end itself.  The goal is getting re-elected, and money is needed to accomplish this goal.  But if voters disapprove of who is funding a candidateís campaign, most candidates will return the money before it costs them votes.  The ultimate goal is the vote Ė which makes the vote more valuable.  And if raising money begins to interfere with a candidateís ability to win votes, the voters always take priority.


Updated:  20 August 2013
Contact: Russ Harrison,


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